Dr. Ivan Jirak was an Explorer at a time when that title truly meant something. He traveled the world studying indigenous tribes and head shrinking natives; making first ascents on mountains; and charting previously uncharted territories. All without the aid of a GPS or the latest GoreTex gear. On a 1966 expedition to scale El Sangay volcano in Ecuador, he found that the four “official” maps he had all showed the Macas River flowing in four different directions. Not to be deterred, he threw the maps aside, persuaded some locals who spoke no English to join him and went on to lead a two-team assault of the summit.
He was the father of one of my best friends from childhood and although I learned a number of lessons from my time with Dr. Jirak, the greatest one came after his death. At his funeral, a young man who he had mentored got up and said, “Ivan taught me how to climb a mountain. The thing about climbing a mountain is that, inevitably, there comes a point when you’re done. You’ve gone as far as you can go. You’re tired and you don’t think that you can go any further. Ivan always used to say, ‘That’s when the real climb begins. That’s when you really start climbing the mountain. Prior to that you’re just out for a walk.‘”
Because once you’ve gone as far you as you can go, it’s no longer about the mountain anymore. It’s about you. Are you mentally tough enough? Do you have the stamina? The strength? Can you push through the pain? The discomfort?
When you come upon that seemingly insurmountable obstacle, you have two options. The first is to do nothing and remain exactly where you are. The second is to find some way – any way. You may have to scale it. You might have to go around it. And there will even be times when you have to lower your shoulder and smash right through it.
On the other side of that challenge is the only place where you’ll find real adventure; real excitement; real growth. So remember that when you are climbing whatever mountain may be in front of you. Smile when you hear that little voice telling you that you’re too tired or that it’s too hard and you can’t go on. That’s the time to double down on your resolve and, in the words of a true explorer, ‘start your climb!‘